Friday, March 29, 2013

Civil Society and the Law of God

Something I need to chew on some more.

Biology contains all kinds of redundant systems that serve no obvious purpose (until somebody finds one: are my ears biologically engineered to serve as resting-places for spectacles? should I be very concerned that all my fellow humans use their spectacle-holders for the proper purpose? is the proper function of the ears a matter that the Supreme Court must decide for all civilized people?).

Citing scripture as though it offered a clear window into the mind of God is very problematic. There are many examples we might discuss, but let's just take two:

(1) "When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee" (Deut. 20:10-14, KJV).

This is the Lord's method for waging war as revealed to the Deuteronomist(s), and it is the "nice" method--as opposed to the brutal slaughter of all living things that he mandates for "the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites" (Deut. 20:17). Is this the method of warfare that our American troops employ in Iraq, in Afghanistan? No. Bad as we are, we do not all embrace collateral damage and cultural imperialism as unproblematic goods. If we waged war "biblically" by following the Deuteronomist methods advocated here, people would see us (quite justifiably) as uncivilized monsters (with little to set us apart from Francisco Pizarro or Genghis Khan, who also had strict codes of honor justifying all the methods they used to slaughter people who resisted domination and steal all their stuff). If we reject God's methods for making war, why should we embrace his methods for making love? Isn't this problem the very reason Mormons want "continuing revelation" (so that we aren't stuck following rules that work really badly in hindsight, even if they looked great to some prophet at some point in the past)?

(2) "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination" (Lev. 18:22). "If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days" (Deut. 22:28-29). So, the Lord's Pentateuchal law of marriage forbids homosexual relations (Leviticus) and mandates that the heterosexual rapist must pay a fine and marry his victim (Deuteronomy)? In our modern society, even in Utah and the Bible Belt, nobody seriously argues that women should be forced to marry rapists. That is something we have rejected (justifiably) as barbaric and unnecessary in our society (which is not Deuteronomistic society, thank God). Why are we still citing Leviticus as something meaningful, then? How is forbidding homosexuality any less barbaric than making a woman marry her rapist (with whom she is supposed to be reconciled merely because he gave her father some money, as though she were a piece of property he had damaged)?

If the "old law" in Leviticus and Deuteronomy is not really rendered utterly null by Christ's new one, then how do we determine which bits to keep and which to ignore? Why does Shakespeare get a pass for dressing men in women's clothing (Deut. 22:5): shouldn't all God-fearing people boycott him and his evil literature for its affront to biblical decency? Why don't we insist that people avoid eating shellfish (Lev. 11:10) or pork (Lev. 11:7-8)?

If we skip the Old Testament as irrelevant (which is what we really do most of the time, thank God) and jump to the New, the only anti-homosexual prohibition we get comes from the apostle Paul (Rom. 1:26-27), the same guy who thinks women should remain quiet in church and wear a full-body veil (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Tim. 2:9-10; I must confess the καταστολή looks a lot like the burkha to me, even if we agree with Origen that it should be interpreted allegorically here). Why do we reject Paul's advice on women but keep him on speed-dial when it comes to deciding how to interact with homosexuals?

Scripture says all kinds of things, most of them mutually contradictory (and ignored by most of the faithful in all historical religious traditions). It is not a clear guide for anyone's morality, and it cannot be turned into law that agrees neatly with the civil society we have built in modern America--a civil society which rests on ideals (like freedom and mutual toleration) that it does not value much. (You will find little importance given to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Old or New Testaments: they tell you how to be righteous, not how to be free. Instead of approaching freedom as something beneficial to be cultivated, they most often approach it as something dangerous to be controlled via submission to the divine will. For better or worse, the USA and the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition historically stand against this approach more than with it, although we are doing our best to correct that deficit in modern society--on the Left and the Right.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Virtue and Vice, Human Values

Some thoughts I had while considering this review of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

Vice and virtue are two different words for the same human experience. Sometimes that experience is pleasant in one way--building something beautiful and integral over a long period of time--and we call it virtue. Sometimes that experience is pleasant in another way--destroying something beautifully in one instant--and we call it vice.

Life is built out of death, and death paves the way for life. I do not know how history will judge my death (my life), but I know I will do my best to make that death (life) a beautiful one (whether it comes tomorrow or four decades from now, whether it arrives as the long culmination of virtuous pleasure or the sudden instance of something vicious).

Values may be simple in the mind of man, but life is always complex, making values in society very complicated (necessarily and inevitably).

Burn It Down

My thoughts on the most recent attempt by the US Federal Government to control how I look after my personal health.

I embrace the wolf. Let him come and rape the sheep, driving us out to pasture somewhere else (as our current enclosure becomes a killing field for bureaucrats in middle-management and their power-hungry bosses). Let him destroy the rotten healthcare system in the US with his overbearing plans, his impossible schemes requiring infinite resources and a crystal ball showing the future in precise detail (such that he can make projections that pan out in real life, keeping his bloated bureaucracy alive and raking in the dough needed to pay for my place in his bread-line). Let Nero burn Rome down and fiddle while he blames the Jesus freaks (and maybe crucifies a few for good measure).

But as for me and my house, we will be waiting for the black market. We will be looking for doctors who provide services to patients, not bureaucracies, for prices that patients can pay (without any help from those pestilent bureaucracies, which always drive the market away from the cheap towards the expensive). We will not go the emergency room for colds. We will not get our teeth cleaned, our prescriptions filled, our kids medicated, our yearly mammograms, our "recommended" colonscopies (WTF?), or any other services that we do not absolutely need--as in, "I just cut off my arm with a chainsaw; I should probably see a surgeon before I die in the next few minutes."  That is real need, folks.

Insurance used to be something cheap the individual got so that his buddies could help him out when the chainsaw attacked. In this form, it was useful: I paid pennies to save dollars. Today, insurance is a mafia racket: I cannot say "Boo!" to a doctor in a hospital without paying $100s and $1000s to bureaucrats (who want to know all about my personal medical history, so that they can charge me more when they notice that I don't follow the diets endorsed by the USDA or the AMA, or any of these stupid organizations that claim to understand human health even when research consistently reveals their understanding to be dangerous bullshit). Screw this mess. I hope Obamacare passes. I hope it succeeds in ruining an industry that desperately needs to be ruined. It could be the forest fire that resets our ecology, allowing us to build from its ashes a healthcare industry that will actually give a damn about the health of patients (instead of looking for big bucks in taxation and "sophisticated" medical intervention, mostly pharmaceuticals, to keep paper-pushers rich at the expense of both patients and the doctors who actually care about doing their job well).

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Demise of Masculinity?

People nowadays occasionally talk about the demise of masculinity.  While I don't really believe in this (or disbelieve in it), I do have some thoughts to offer (piles of poop that might contain a few pearls on closer inspection).

Males are disproportionately represented at the poles of human experience (e.g. as alpha leaders and omega losers): testosterone is all about taking huge risks, which yield crud at least as often as gold. Males are thus always losing (to each other and females), from prehistoric times until now. We are the expendable gender, the one Nature can play wild games with without killing the species in one generation.

The most problematic things about modern society that I see hurting males can be summed up as "education." The modern educational establishment often crushes humanity--not just masculinity, but masculinity suffers more in proportion as the particular enemy that the modern educational establishment wants to destroy is randomness (luck, gambling, inequality--in a word, masculinity).

What happens when your kid (more likely your little boy) doesn't want to sit quiet for hours doing stupid "work" at a desk? You drug him into submission. What happens when your little kid (more likely your little boy) wants to try jumping off a high rock in the park or play-fight with his friends? You drug him into submission. What happens when your little kid (more likely your little boy) wants to run and shout and throw things? You drug him into submission. What happens when he resents the drugs and the socialization and the submission and cannot find any outlet for the randomness that Nature plants inside him? What happens when your school chains him to the desk, cancels the wrestling program (because it isn't as cool as stupid football), and expects him to kiss other people's butts for reasons that he doesn't understand or respect? What happens when you demand that he believe in transparent fallacies as though they were absolute realities--neglecting to gamble with his own life and turning that responsibility over to somebody else, indefinitely (perhaps forever)?

Well, all kinds of s*** happens. Some boys become derelicts (angry rebels resenting society's denial and suppression of their humanity). Some become doormats (depressed and defeated cubicle-dwellers bowing and scraping and begging their masters to give more treats than beatings). Some learn how to game the system (findng ways to remain masculine by luck and skill). Some become homicidal maniacs (and you hear about them on the news when they storm into a local school or theater spraying bullets). All these options are not new: we see them recurring throughout history (in every society). Modernization is not novel, in this respect: we just do everything our forefathers did on a grander scale (such that we make more dangerous males whose capacity for destruction is greater).

The solution, as I see it, is to find some way of dealing with randomness (masculinity, testosterone) that doesn't involve trying to suppress it utterly (as many social institutions, particularly educational ones, have a tendency to do). If your kid doesn't like the desks, take him somewhere else. Don't make us all play or watch football. Don't send the homicidal maniacs to school by law: give them and their families options outside the current system. Don't be a soccer mom (or dad). If your kid likes fighting, put him in a ring somewhere and let him get beaten up. If he likes dirty work, give him jobs doing it. Don't make him go to school. Don't make him be something he isn't. Don't resent him for failing to be the all-American hero that people want their boys to be. Not everyone is a hero the same way, remember. We have to find a way to let people (mostly males) lose without destroying themselves and society in the process.

In short, we men are losers. We need the freedom to learn and practice losing, so that we can do it well. Society as it exists currently does not provide a safe environment for this. It punishes losing so viciously and reactively that people who fail (mostly boys) tend to fail really catastrophically (more than they would without intervention) and (the crucial point) miss opportunities to learn from failure (which is what people with lots of testosterone are built to do).

Feminism is a red herring here, in my opinion. Of course women are people too, and should be treated with human dignity (i.e. allowed to wear pants, learn trades, run companies, command armies, and take responsibility for their own wagers with Nature). Treating women like human beings in no way disenfranchises men.

The real enemy is not either gender, but the people of both who want to kill randomness (making life regular such that there are no winners or losers, and we "learn" from failure by pretending we can engineer a world in which it doesn't exist). The enemies of masculinity include many men--among them many chauvinists who would scorn to be called feminists. (Myself, I don't mind being labelled a feminist, though I prefer the term humanist, with the stipulation that women are human, too--just as human as men, and just as entitled to human autonomy.)

America the Ironical

This morning I was thinking about our national anthem (in the United States).  I think we should replace it with something else, maybe something like this:

Some people say a man is made out of mud
An American's made out of plastic and crud
Plastic and crud and bombs and votes
A mind that's weak and a voice that's strong

You vote every year, what do you get
Another year older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin' when the house didn't fall
I picked up my ballot and I walked to the stall
I voted sixteen times for liars that stole
And the party boss said "Well, bless my soul!"

You vote every year, what do you get
Another year older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain

Naive and stupid are my middle name
I was raised in the schoolyard on federal loans
Can't no framed diploma learn me to earn

You vote every year, what do you get
Another year older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin', better step aside

The Iraqis didn't, and a lot of them died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the Right wing don't kill you
Then the Left sure will

You vote every year, what do you get
Another year older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

There.  That was fun.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gods on Earth

The problem with God is not one of truth or falsehood.  The nature of reality is to exist beyond our ability to grasp it.  We cannot see the past clearly, and the future is even more opaque, resisting every human effort to predict or control.  Some people call this opacity (which is an inalienable part of human experience) God, and I am fine with that.  (More than fine.  When I speak of God, this opacity is the reality at which I point.)

In this sense, God's existence is not up for debate.  (If you are the kind of person who cringes and raves every time somebody uses the word God, then replace it with Nature: my meaning will remain unchanged.)  God is not true or false.  He is not existent or non-existent.  We are here--reading and writing, talking and doing, living and dying--so obviously God exists.  But don't celebrate (or lament) my conversion to religious nuttiness prematurely.  Let me finish speaking before you break out the holy water (or beg me to read another book by Richard Dawkins).

The problem with God is that people speak for him (it, them, her if you like to think of Mother Nature).  People look into the world around them, see whatever they see, and then use their perception as a tool for relating to me.  That is fine (unavoidable: I cannot escape the reality that people use their perceptive powers to guide their relationships, including relationships they have with me).  But there is a right way to relate to others and a wrong way, and God's most vocal advocates (I say as an historian) show a tendency to prefer the wrong way.

Historically, God's most vocal spokesmen are rather stuck-up.  They think they see further into life's opacity than other people.  They think their vision is so much better than mine that I should rely on them to make all meaningful decisions for me.  Rather than live with my own experience and learn from it (the good and the bad), I should just take their word for everything and do what they would do--always and uncritically, no matter what happens to me.  If they tell me to jump off a cliff in God's name, then by God I had better do that (or be cast out of all polite society as some kind of pariah).  If they tell me to pay taxes, then I had better pay up and never mind where the money goes: that's God's business, not mine.  If God wants to build giant luxury malls in Salt Lake City or bail out a bunch of dead companies on Wall Street that nobody else has any earthly use for, then my place is to help him do it--without questions, without criticism, without anything that God's faithful stewards might possibly construe as arrogance or insubordination.

This is where I have a problem.  I don't mind that Apollo comes to you in dreams and tells you what to do.  I mind when he comes to you in dreams and sends you to tell me what to do.  How convenient that God, a mystery I can never perfectly know, orders me to become your abject slave!  What a beautiful thing!  (For you, eh?  If you are the kind of person who likes having saps wait on you hand and foot, begging you to put a good word in for them to the scary Reality out there that none of us really understands.)

When I refuse to submit abjectly to uppity priests of Apollo, they often resort to vague threats.  Supposedly, the entire fabric of polite society will unravel utterly if I don't pay them their protection money.  Apollo will get really, really mad and send a plague to ruin me and all those who act like me.  This might well happen (plagues are historical realities that strike unpredictably).  But it could still happen if I accepted the premise that I should spend my entire life bowing and scraping to a bunch of men in suits.  These men don't control plagues any more than I do.  They don't necessarily understand more than I do.  They don't know me better than I know myself.  They are not necessarily better judges of my circumstances than I am.  And contrary to the threats they utter when I shake off the chains of abject obedience with which they want to load me, I do not lose the ability to be polite and appropriately deferent merely because I am not entirely under their thumbs.  I am not polite merely because I am scared stiff of what Apollo might do to me should I be gratuitously rude.  I am polite because I like manners.  I like society.  I like pleasing people and having people strive to please me.  I like cooperation.  I like trade.  I like honest business, in which the terms are clearly negotiated between peers who respect one another as equals.

Real peers understand that equality is not about looking the same--speaking the same words, reading the same books, eating the same foods, having the same kind of sex, having the same kind of family, and so on.  It is about expressing thoughtful and cultivated humanity.  We all have humanity in us, and we all express it differently.  Real peers see the utility inherent in that difference and respect it where it offers more potential for benefit than for harm.  Real peers have enough experience with humanity to know what kinds of it are really dangerous.  They don't waste time attacking harmless things (like gay people, feminists, or intellectuals).  They save their righteous wrath for the really dangerous stuff (Apollo's prophets, priests, and kings--CEOs, CFOs, and commanders-in-chief, along with their endless task-forces of diligent, self-important bureaucrats).  They also recognize that there are smart and stupid ways to be angry.  They avoid stupid rebellions--like loud protests occupying this or that, or political rallies in which we pretend that the solution to all our problems is to pick more a beneficent bully to collect Apollo's protection money, as though mafia politics magically become harmless when the enforcer professes to have "traditional values."  I couldn't care less what values you profess, until you expect me to profess them exactly as you do or lose my ability to participate in society.  Then I get upset, not because of your values (per se), but because of you (you might profess the values of Gandhi or Jesus, but if you profess them as a domineering bully, then I don't like you: you are the problem, not your irrelevant values).

Believe in Apollo.  Believe in Odin.  Believe in Jesus.  Believe in Allah.  Believe in your American dream.  Believe in Richard Dawkins.  But don't make me believe the way you do.  Don't pretend that the only way to be polite is the particular way you happened upon.  Don't go around trying to make me ashamed merely because I don't exist precisely the way you do.  Maybe I don't sacrifice goats at the right altar.  Maybe I don't attend the right church on the right day.  Maybe I don't wear a burkha (or make my wife wear one).  Maybe I don't think bailing out bad businesses represents a good way to save America (or anybody).  Maybe I don't think Dawkins really is the brilliant, original iconoclast that he pretends to be.  So what?  I can still be a good member of society--a good person whom other good people will want to do business with.  Bad stuff will still happen, to me and everybody else.  That is the nature of life, something that nobody can ever change (no matter how we all pray to Apollo to hold the plagues).  Life is built out of death.  Each generation makes way for the next, and all animal species of record eventually go extinct. 

Maybe there is some kind of afterlife (or alternative life outside the narrow spectrum of experience we currently reside in without being remotely able to comprehend).  Who knows?  The precise nature of its putative existence is irrelevant to the way we deal with one another here and now.  We have to be polite here and now not because of what Apollo may or may not do, but in spite of it.  We have to live with one another politely because we love civility, not because some men claiming to speak for God will blow our heads off otherwise (or because we think being nice gets us into Apollo's good graces: historically, this is just wrong; the good die young).

Really polite society exists indifferent to external circumstances outside human control.  It is polite because it loves civility, generous because it loves generosity, loving because it is love.  I don't wake up and decide to love my family (my darling wife and my two little kids, my parents and siblings, my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins) because of some dream from Apollo, or some tough guys in suits who claim to speak for Apollo.  I love my family because I am love.  That is what I do.  The love is there: I look into my heart and it is there, instantly and absolutely.  It doesn't need to be "protected" by laws or guns or offerings on the altar dedicated by Apollo's only true and living henchmen.  When I look into history, what I see is that efforts to protect it inevitably damage more than they help.  (Maybe that is wrong, but I cannot help seeing it.) 

From my limited and limiting perspective, the best way to cultivate love is to let it express itself freely where it exists.  It won't exist everywhere.  Sometimes, it turns very quickly to destructive hate (and then it must be arrested, restrained--maybe even jailed or killed in some circumstances, but we should strive to make our interventions as rare as possible rather than look for excuses to invoke harsh penalties).  The really good priests are those who offer themselves as useful peers to those looking for ways to express the love they discover inside themselves.  Not all priests are made to serve all men.  Some of us won't be able to help others deal with Apollo.  That is OK.  The smart person goes through life looking for priests (peers) who can help him (or her).  He doesn't blame or punish those who cannot help.  He doesn't demand from them the help they are not capable of giving.  (If they don't want to participate in his marriage, he would never force them to.  But he would seek to solemnize that marriage elsewhere, with a different priest--one who can offer what he needs to create his own unique and cultured response to life's opacity.)

We are all artists, making art of our lives as we respond to the mystery that none of us understands (opacity, Nature, God, Apollo).  My art doesn't have to be the only art.  You can paint in one style while I paint in another.  My paintings might not be very good.  They might never grace a museum.  People who happen to see them might come away mocking ("what trash this loser makes! what a worthless life he has! they should outlaw this kind of stupidity!").  That is OK, too, in my view.  But the line must be drawn somewhere.  I must be free to display my worthless garbage of an artistic oeuvre somewhere, if only on the inside of the refrigerator box where I am currently living.  I have to exist somewhere.  My art has to have a place somewhere.  It isn't the kind of art created by really dangerous predators (the serial killers, banksters, politicians, or journalists).  To condemn my art utterly, such that I am not allowed to make or enjoy it anywhere, is to kill me.  I don't want to die.  I don't want to kill you (or anyone).  I am perfectly content to let you make your art, and display it wherever you have opportunity to do so.  The worst you will get from me are a few caustic comments (which you are always free to ignore).  Why should you expect more than that?  Why demand that everyone make or love the same art?  Even if we wanted this to happen (as we don't), reality would flout our fond daydream, since we are not all cut out to make or enjoy the same kind of art.  God does not make us that way.  Presumably he is OK with what he himself makes.  If he is not, then at the very least he is capable of doing his own enforcing, pouring out his own plagues upon the just and the unjust without working through committees of bureaucratic busybodies eager to pronounce authoritative judgement on the lives of their fellowmen.

Make your own art.  Not mine.  Worship your own god.  Not mine.  Give yourself commandments to aid you moment to moment (with every little decision you make).  Don't give me those commandments (they don't help me, since my life is not yours, my god is not yours, my art is not yours). If you really want to be helpful to other artists, give advice ("this is how I make art; feel free to use my art to help with yours, if you like").  That is the basic message of this interminable essay. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Love of a Free Man

Every child has a right to Mother and Father.

Every child has a right to good food, clothing, and medical care.

Every child has a right to opportunities for improving itself (i.e. education).

People are fond of making statements like these, statements that sound nice but carry some very poisonous implications (in my opinion).  The problem with all these rights arises when other people see how I am failing to provide them to my children. 

What happens when my family lacks mother- and father-figures that meet with somebody else's approval? 

What happens when my idea of what constitutes good food, clothing, and medical care conflicts with somebody else's?

What happens when my idea of what constitutes a good education for my child isn't yours?

In the modern world, this is more or less what happens.  A bunch of busybodies see my family and are terribly offended by it (seeing its existence as an attack on theirs).  Responding to the threat posed by my existing with relationships that don't look enough like theirs, these busybodies get together and organize protests.  They make flyers.  They create memes on Facebook.  They make all kinds of holy noises about things like "grassroots politics," "the moral majority," "family values," "progressive values," and whatnot.  They form PACs.  They gather donations.  They write angry letters to their clueless representatives in some august body of government bureaucrats pretending to be responsible lawmakers.  The bureaucrats get ants in their pants and do what they always do--form a committee.  This committee sits down and determines to establish once and for all (1) what a good family looks like (what constitutes an acceptable Mother and Father for all Americans?), (2) what good healthcare looks like (what constitutes an acceptable diet for all Americans?), and (3) what a good education looks like (what constitutes an acceptable education for all Americans?).  The committee is very precise and deliberate.  It must be practical.  It cannot make room for all kinds of silly exceptions to general rules.   It has to lay down the law--for everyone, for all time.

And so what happens when my little family isn't up to snuff?  What happens when the committee isn't impressed by my fathering skills, or my wife's mothering?  What happens when it notes that I don't feed my kids a USDA-approved diet--of poisonous denatured crap marketed by profiteering companies whose deep pockets make them much more interesting and persuasive to bureaucrats than I will ever be?  What happens when the committee doesn't like the education I have chosen to give my kids?  Nobody knows.  But one thing is certain: I will be under scrutiny, and I might lose the right to even have a family, if the committee decides that I am not worthy of such an honor (or deserving of such a responsibility, if you prefer).

Who limits the committee's jurisdiction?  Nobody really.  The bureaucrats answer to their loudest constituents--a bunch of punks who want to micromanage my life to make it look like theirs--and to other bureaucrats, some elected and some not, who tend to think that the answer to all society's problems is letting more of them get a lick in.  ("Just let us handle this one, kid.  We'll take care of your problems!")  Inviting these clowns into your life is easy: getting them out is really hard (no matter what political party they belong to or where they worship on Sundays).  Combine the bureaucrats' inherent love of absolute authority with their busybody constituents' insistent demand that all human relationships be micro-managed to meet their finicky tastes, and the result is a perfect recipe for enslaving me.

I don't give a damn about gay marriage, one way or the other.  If you want one, go for it with my blessing.  If you don't, I would never force it on you.  I am not an angry guy.  But there are ways of making me mad.  I get mad when punks want to bring bureaucrats into my home (into my bedroom, for God's sake) as some kind of absolute authority pronouncing judgement on the worthiness of my personal relationships--"defending" my marriage (or my diet or my education) by forcing me to make it according to the arbitrary determinations of some stupid committee.  I resent this "defense."  I see it as a direct attack on my religious freedom, not the legitimate defense of anyone else's.  (You want religious freedom?  Get the heck out of my house, out of my bedroom, out of my larder, out of my career, and out of my life.  Go and live your own.  You don't have to solemnize my gay marriage, or say only nice things about it.  You don't have to eat steak.  You don't have to go to school where I do.  You don't have to bail my business out when it fails.  You don't have to buy healthcare for me.  Your religious freedom doesn't include the right to make me live the way you do.  I have religious freedom too, punk, so go eat the poison you like and leave me to the ones I prefer.)  

Just so we're clear: I will marry whom I damn well please, of whatever gender or age I please, for whatever reason I want.  I will eat what I damn well please, in whatever quantities I please, for whatever reason I want.  I will send my kids to school where I damn well please, for whatever reason I want.  I don't care if I am not the best qualified person to marry or make dietary choices or educate kids.  I will not sign my marriage, my diet, or my kids over to some committee (not even if the chair of that committee affects the titles or trappings of deity: the real God sends rain upon the just and the unjust alike and doesn't give a damn about making results fair--in this life or any other that we know anything definite about).

The committee and the busybodies it represents can cite me statistics all day long, proving (1) how my marriage would be better if I were a rich, white heterosexual with a partner of the opposite gender (so we'll just seize the kids of poor single parents, or force them to marry someone of the appropriate gender and socio-economic class right away if they want to keep their children?); (2) how my diet would be better if I followed USDA guidelines (get your heart-healthy whole grains while they're hot, suckers!); and (3) how my kids would be better off if society took them away from me and gave them to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama (think of all the rights and opportunities my children don't have because I'm not a millionaire!).  I don't care.  Maybe the committee should sterilize me while they're at it.  Heck, they could cut all the fuss and bother and just send me straight to the gas chamber.  (Yes, Godwin, I embrace thee.  This is the Internet, after all.)  What a load of crap.  Not only does it make no sense as an idea (religious freedom means that I have the right to make you my bitch! this is precisely what the founders of our republic wanted, as anyone who reads the Federalist and/or Anti-Federalist papers will agree), it would be a practical disaster (creating far more confusion and suffering than it could ever hope to alleviate).

Love is not a human right. It is a human opportunity (that can never be granted by committee). You should leave people as free as possible to find and express it in whatever circumstances life gives them. Sometimes, those circumstances will make somebody's love look poor and mean and worthless to other people, but that is no reason to take it away, to deny its expression, to replace it with the love of others who are more fortunate, or more aesthetically pleasing to some committee of busybodies too busy interfering with others' lives to manage their own.  (Don't you people have something else to do?  A budget to keep?  Drones to send against Pakistani women and children while you agonize over some American woman's decision to remove a few cells from her uterus?  A beam to remove from your own eye, maybe, before you go poking around for the motes in mine?  Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites.  If you are reading old Judaeo-Christian scripture, this is what you are.  If you don't read scripture, then pick up any book you like on Hitler's Germany, Franco's Spain, Mao's China, or Lenin's Russia: these are your heroes, the shining beacons of moral purity that you want me to follow to a better future.  Even if you are right, I don't want to come to that future.  I would rather go to the gas chamber.)

In conclusion, if I ever sit on a committee charged to consider the institution of marriage as it exists throughout humanity (in my country or any other), this will be my contribution: "This committee has nothing useful to say when it comes to prescribing the nature of people's personal relationships. As long as they are not killing each other or inflicting criminal damage, people can have whatever personal relationships they want. They can register those relationships legally using any language they please, and they can participate in society however they find opportunity."  See?  I actually believe in religious freedom, unlike the punks (conservative and liberal) who want to make everyone live as they do.  (What would Jesus do?  He would make you live like me, obviously.  What would Abe Lincoln or Martin Luther King do?  The same thing!  Everyone must be good the same way!  We're all going to march in lock-step to heaven on earth!  Not with me you're not.  I am never going to board that ship, not matter who or what stands at the helm.)      

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Thoughts of a Free Man

All people who participate in national politics actively these days (e.g. by voting for Republican or Democratic candidates for president) are socialists.  They believe in the power of central planning.  They give strength to bureaucracy (which works the way it works, the whole world over: there is no vast different between American bureaucracy and Soviet or Chinese bureaucracy; all the bureaucracies are more similar than different, a fact that our obsession with ideology tends to obscure).  Instead of reading polemics by strident partisans (arguing for or against some -ism), read novels.  Standing in a bread-line in Soviet Russia is not that different from standing in line at the DMV in the good old USA.  Prisons in the USA are not that different from prisons elsewhere.  WMDs here are like WMDs there.  Armies here are like armies there.  Police here are like police there.  Stupid polemical arguments here are like stupid polemical arguments there. 

The kind of freedom that I care about is not a word in a particular language.  It does not depend on how a bunch of robed dudes interpret an arcane document.  It does not depend on you or me or any of us.  It is bigger than everyone, individually and collectively.  You cannot control it, no matter how many bombs you make or laws you pass.  I don't have to fight to protect this freedom from you or anyone else because it doesn't need protection.  In fact, to protect this freedom is to lose it.  It is not secure.  It is not securable.  You can worry about it obsessively or pay it no mind, and it doesn't give a damn.  It just goes on existing, enabling your life and everyone else's, until some unforeseen moment when it decides that someone or something stops living.  The market drops.  Cancer appears.  A tsunami strikes.  An earthquake hits your nuclear reactor.  Lights out.  No time-outs.  No instant replay.  No referees.  No rules.  No closed system to game.

Freedom is embracing this reality--knowing that you don't know reality, that nobody knows it, and that this moment of ignorance is unexpectedly, inexplicably sweet.  How delicious that we are all alive!  How wonderful that we can speak, think, and even move with purpose every now and then and accomplish things (not because we have any right to them, but because luck conspires to enable our feeble gestures toward purpose and meaning).  Why ruin this blessing by attempting to muzzle it?  How can I drag myself away from the joy of my own experience long enough to ruin yours (by trying to make it just like mine)?  How does it build my delight in life to deny yours (or vice versa)?  Live and let live (and die) is the credo of the really free man.  I am not threatened by your happiness, even when it is not mine.  I know that I am dying.  I embrace death with the same joy that I feel for life, since life and death are really the same thing (life is built out of death: every step away from one kind of death draws me that much closer to another one).  Freedom is knowing the outcome (I must die) and not caring (I shall make a beautiful death, whenever my moment comes).  Freedom is not giving a damn whether other people are capitalists or communists.  Freedom is not giving a damn whether gays marry or not.  Freedom is not giving a damn whether the Constitution says this or that.  Freedom is not giving a damn whether God did this or the devil that.  Freedom is not giving a damn (not because you are an angry nihilist who rejects all meaning in life, but because you are a realist who sees that your personal happiness does not have to depend on outcomes outside human control).

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Personal Apology

In the world of apologetics, moral behavior is only ever utterly right or totally wrong.  This is very problematic, for reasons that I am going to rant about now.

Prophets are either right about sex, or wrong: there is no middle ground, no room for any kind of experimentation or trial, and no mercy for mistakes.

Bank regulators are either right about interest rates, or wrong: there is no middle ground, no room for any kind of experimentation or trial, and no mercy for mistakes.

By endorsing ideas like these, apologists for the absolute authority of any social order inevitably weaken that order (pressuring it to exist in a way that precludes antifragility and invites cataclysmic destruction--when dear little Pete is gay or Suzie gets knocked up or someone buys a passle of bad mortgages: the righteous Mormon family folds, just like the righteous global economy built on the Pax Americana).

Recently it came to my attention that a certain Mormon apologist made some pointed remarks about the motives people like me have, people who disagree publicly with things the LDS church does and says in an official capacity.  This apologist assumed that I would necessarily wish to destroy the church, utterly and entirely.  For the record, that is not true.  I am not interested in destroying the church (not even when apologists refer to me and/or my friends as "hostile ex-Mormons"). I prefer to contribute to society in positive ways rather than negative ones. What hurt me about the church was that I found my contribution there coming out to a net negative: I was hurting myself and other people more inside the the church than out (where I currently am, though I have not taken my name off the rolls and I have no intention of doing so).

I wish the church well. I wish it could say the same for me (i.e. send me off to hell with a pat on the back instead of attempting to crucify my character to family members still under its spell). To be fair, I don't think the church as a whole does wish me harm; the problem is that there are all these apologists in it, apologists who want to look at my life and explain every failure (of any kind: i.e. personal moral shortcomings and impersonal natural disasters) as a result of me not believing in or living up to their personal idea of what constitutes a really righteous rain dance.

"You had sex and felt bad? Well, obviously you weren't following the prophet."

"You bought stock and prices plunged? Well, obviously you weren't following the prophet."

"You stuck your head in a hat and suddenly thought you understood life, the universe, and everything? Well, obviously you weren't following the prophet."  You have to stick your head in the right hat and use only proper scrying technique under the supervision of certified experts (like those two clueless 18-year-olds the prophet sent to your door to explain these mysteries of God).

It's quite simply a pile of crap. Life is more random than the ability of people to predict or guarantee, even when some people wind up wearing fancy duds and sporting titles to match (titles like "prophet, seer, and revelator" or "vice-president in charge of risk management" or "royal astrologer"). The nice suit doesn't qualify you to place bets for other people that are guaranteed to succeed. The splendid track record enshrined in your curriculum vitae doesn't qualify you, either. I don't care how much money you made playing Russian roulette with nature, buddy: I happen to know that the game is not safe, that people die doing the same rain dance you do, that there is no such thing as a bet guaranteed to pay more upside than downside. Knowing this does not make me want to destroy you--any more than I want to destroy the guy who tries to sell me diet pills or the doctor who thinks I should get a colonoscopy (because I'm getting older and "you can never be too careful") or the stockbroker who wants me to buy a bunch of junk bonds.  I don't want to shoot the messenger. I'm just not interested in buying any of the useless junk he sells, and I'm tired of this reticence on my part being used as some kind of weapon to malign me to friends and family (as though I were an awful person merely because I don't like buying junk from charlatans).